As a recent transplant in Antwerp, I have come to embrace the things its locals truly value ― aside from the obvious love for beer culture and its diamond trade, the people here have a desirable taste for the creative and the experimental. Particularly, its sense of fashion and styling fascinates me, which is not surprising as Antwerp is home to a handful of legendaries and a highly sought after fashion design school. So what better way to spend my inauguration here than a visit to the Modemuseum Antwerpen ?
Undoubtedly Dries Van Noten, whose name is as synonymous with Antwerp as waffles are with Belgium, is a forerunner in the contemporary fashion movement. A local and international icon, Van Noten made a name for himself in the early 1980s after emerging from art school with his name attached to a group collectively called the “Antwerp Six“. A standout among the six avant-garde designers, Dries Van Noten reached a level of worldwide recognition for his prints, wearable haute couture, and Hollywood credibility. Locally, the designer is revered to the point where he might as well be the modern day Peter Paul Rubens of the Antwerp fashion scene.
For that reason, the ModeMuseum Antwerpen arranged an exhibition telling the story of Dries Van Noten and his artistic inspirations. Side by side his brand adorned mannequins are the works of visual artists, including Yves Klein, Cy Twombly, Damien Hirst, Nick Cave, Victor Vasarely, Mark Rothko, Cecily Brown, Pol Bury, Thierry de Cordier, Hubert Dubrat, and James Tissot. The setup of the show is divided in themes like “Grunge”, “Jimi Hendrix”, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, each presented in their own separate displays like a retail shop window. Also within the glass encased stages are the works of other fashion designers, namely Balenciaga whose gowns make several appearances throughout the exhibition.
The exhibition itself is not a retrospective in the same fashion as Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty or The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier. It is rather a simple love letter to the living designer, and more or less a speculative insight into the creative mind of Dries Van Noten, who clearly had a lot to do with the setup of the exhibition. In this world we learn more about his influences than we do his physical creative process, unlike Savage Beauty where gowns are accessible for view up close.
A dark and colorful odyssey through his artistic vision, this show tries its best to draw lines between Van Noten’s designs and other artistic objects. Yet some of these connections are either too obvious or too vague, although it is nearly impossible to know what goes on in the mind of an artist, especially regarding how and where they make their connections. I saw this vagueness as a triumph, as the wall text did not over-explain, a curatorial element I can truly appreciate. It is a celebration of his work, and his ability to cross reference so many aspects of culture in order to achieve success in his own art. This is essentially the Antwerpian spirit: a mélange of social and artistic manifestations and influence that is recycled into something fresh and something new.
At the end, there was no merchandise to fulfill my odd thirst for exhibition themed tote bags, but upon exiting the museum, I (conveniently) stumbled upon the Dries Van Noten flagship store. That being said, the idea of exhibition-as-marketing tool inevitably crossed my mind, although what blockbuster exhibition isn’t these days? Very clever Dries.
The exhibition runs until July 17th of this year in case you needed yet another excuse to visit Antwerp.
Credit photgraphy : © Koen de Waal – ModeMuseum Antwerpen